THE LADY BOUNTIFUL
Valentine de Vermont was not yet twenty-two years old.
Her birth had cost the life of her mother, and, brought up by an active and enterprising man, her education had been directed by plain common-sense, rather masculine, perhaps, but without injury to her personal attractions, nor to those of her delicate and lofty spirit.
Her father, who was endowed with a veritable genius for commercial action, had monopolized more than the fur-trade of Alaska and of Hudson’s Bay. From year to year he had extended the field of his operations: in Central America, dealing in grains and salt meats; in Europe in wines and brandy; commodities always bought at the right time, in enormous quantities, and, without pausing in transshipment from one country to another, carried in vessels belonging to him and sailing under the English flag.
Without giving her any unnecessary instruction as to the management of his affairs, he wished his daughter to possess sufficient knowledge of them to handle herself the wealth that she would receive as a dowry and at his death; and he decided that she should not contract a marriage except under the law of the separation of goods, according to the custom generally adopted in the United States.
An attack of paralysis having condemned him to his armchair, he consecrated the remainder of his days to settling all his enterprises, and when he died, about two years before the arrival of Valentine in Paris, that young lady found herself in the possession of more than one hundred and twenty million francs, nearly all invested in English, American, and French State bonds.
At the expiration of her period of mourning, the wealthy heiress could then live in London, New York, or Paris, at her pleasure; but the French blood that ran in her veins prevented her from hesitating a moment, and she chose the last named of the three cities for her abode.
Being passionately fond of saddle and driving-horses, she did not stop in England without taking the necessary time to acquire everything of the best for the fitting-up of a stable, and after a time she established herself temporarily in a sumptuous apartment in the Place de l’Etoile, furnished with a taste worthy of the most thorough Parisian.
On the evening after her appearance at the Opera, just as she left her breakfast-table, M. Durand presented himself at her dwelling with the architect’s plan for the building of the orphan asylum, and declared himself ready to take her orders regarding the plan, as well as on the subject of the gift of money to the Society.